Interactions between sea ice, clouds, and the Arctic Circulation

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015
Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings
Patrick C. Taylor, NASA, Hampton, VA; and S. Kato, K. M. Xu, N. C. Baker, and M. Cai

Handout (876.6 kB)

The Arctic is one of the most climatically sensitive regions of the Earth. Climate models robustly project the Arctic to warm 2-3 times faster than the global mean surface temperature—termed polar warming amplification (PWA)—but also display the widest range of surface temperature projections in this region. The response of the Arctic to increased CO2 modulates the response in tropical and extra-tropical regions through teleconnections in the atmospheric circulation. An increased frequency of extreme precipitation events in the northern mid-latitudes, for example, has been linked to the change in the background equator-to-pole temperature gradient implied by PWA. Understanding the Arctic climate system is therefore important for predicting global climate change. The ice albedo feedback is the primary mechanism driving PWA, however cloud and dynamical feedbacks significantly contribute. These feedback mechanisms, however, do not operate independently. How do clouds respond to variations in sea ice? This critical question is addressed by combining sea ice, cloud, and radiation observations from satellites—including CERES, CloudSAT, CALIPSO, MODIS, and microwave radiometers—to investigate sea ice-cloud interactions at the interannual timescale in the Arctic. Cloud characteristics are strongly tied to the atmospheric dynamic and thermodynamic state. Therefore, the sensitivity of Arctic cloud characteristics—vertical distribution, optical properties, and radiative forcing—to sea ice anomalies is computed within atmospheric dynamic and thermodynamic regimes. Results indicate that the cloud response to changes in sea ice concentration differs significantly between atmospheric state regimes. This suggests that (1) the atmospheric dynamic and thermodynamic characteristics and (2) the characteristics of the marginal ice zone are important for determining the seasonal forcing by cloud on sea ice variability.